A Message for my Fellow Indie Musicians

I’m stubborn.

That may be the main reason I keep going when all seems to be against me. Maybe it’s also because I have a 40-year record of being underestimated in the workplace because I didn’t play golf, drive expensive cars, hang out at the country club, or treat “uncool” fellow employees like they had the plague. As an example, about 15 times in my career, I saw a major project going sideways and tried to warn my bosses, only to be told I wasn’t a “team player,” then later (sadly) witnessed the thing collapse exactly as I had warned. Often I felt like Cassandra, always right but never believed.

Such experiences have only reinforced my urge in all situations to prove naysayers wrong. So I keep going with no end in sight and – truth be told – with little likelihood of the kind of success that other folks would recognize as such. To me, in many situations, success means the ability to keep inching toward my goals, whatever they are, in spite of lack of encouragement and even denigration from those who seem to be a little bit “ahead” of me in some path we share.

I’ll probably drop dead working on some project that couldn’t possibly work out for another 20 years if it DID work out, but at least I’ll be pushing forward.

These days “success” has been redefined for just about everybody, and many folks have been forced to realize that whatever goal they seemed on the verge of reaching is farther away than ever. As a musician, I haven’t dreamed of traditional “success” for 30 or 40 years, but I would like more chances to play for appreciative audiences and some level of recognition among my peers and fans of the kinds of music I write. The former has pretty much evaporated this year, and even the latter has been slow in coming, because I haven’t been able to devote the time I needed to it. But if nothing else, I can work toward goals like writing better songs and continuing to help other musicians and would-be musicians in any way I can.

In the late 1990s, a glut of MBAs who had all hit the workplace at the same time realized that the kind of success that came easy for MBAs just a few years earlier was now much harder to achieve. The 1998 book “Who Moved My Cheese?” described the frustration of folks whose presumed “career path” took unexpected detours. The same kinds of frustration are facing most “indie” musicians and other artists today. Since my personal “bar” of success has been low for some time, I’m not as discouraged as my musician friends who felt they were making progress.

But one thing I’ve learned from lots of hard times in lots of circumstances (I was laid off at least 17 times in my career, for example) is that if I keep going when no end is in sight, I eventually come out ahead of all the folks who seemed to be doing much better but threw up their hands when things seemed hopeless. (I also do have to give credit to folks who have been praying for our family all these years – all things working together for good . . . . ).

Maybe for folks who were in sight of greater goals, it’s hard to see “success” as writing one more song, learning a new chord, using a new chord progression in your next song, learning a new instrument, learning how to use the technology you already own, or whatever.

But if we can reframe our notions of success in the present circumstances to something like “keep on swimming,” we will be in a better position once this is over than we were before. Sorry for all the mixed metaphors, but you get the idea.

Hang in there, and in the words of Tiny Tim, “God bless us every one!)


About Paul

Paul Race has been writing and playing all kinds of music since the 1960s, though he tends to favor acoustic and traditional songs. He has created resources like CreekDontRise.com, ClassicTrainSongs.com, and SchoolOfTheRock.com to help other musicians get a good start on their own journeys.

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